By Vincent Bonsignore
Steve Nash checked into the Lakers game against the Washington Wizards on Friday with 3:26 remaining in the first quarter.
Nash, whose time in Los Angeles has been marked by how much he hasn’t played rather than how much he has, was making his first appearance in more than five weeks and playing in just his 11th game of the season.
There were nerves and uncertainty and admittedly, even Nash wasn’t sure what to expect after another long layoff and with his 40-year-old body still wobbly from back and hamstring injuries.
But for one moment, ambiguity was replaced by reassurance with the approving roar of the Staples Center crowd upon Nash’s name being announced.
The future Hall of Famer point guard heard the cheers.
And he appreciated it.
“My time in Los Angeles, as disappointing as it’s been, from a personal standpoint, it’s been unbelievably cool as far as the people have responded to me,” Nash said afterward. “The negative voices have always been the loudest. But the people in streets and public have been unbelievable. For the fans to give that type of reception means a lot to me.”
Nash went on to play 19 minutes in the Lakers loss to the Wizards, finishing with a season-high 11 assists and five points. He left with just over two minutes remaining when his body began acting up, saying later he thinks he caught the issue before it became a long-term issue.
He didn’t practice on Saturday, going through treatment instead. The plan is to try to get him loose Sunday morning and hope he’ll be able to play against the Magic.
Other than the hiccup in the closing minutes, the night was a success.
The loud cheers from Lakers fans setting a proper tone.
“Regardless of the reception, just to run up and down the Staples Center court, with these guys in front of these fans. It’s so priceless for me,” Nash said. “To get an ovation like that, that’s way more than I could ask for.”
The key now is how well Nash holds up over the final 14 games of the season, the outcome playing a significant role in his to-do list this summer.
Ideally Nash will spend the offseason preparing for the 2014-15 season, in which he’ll make $9.7 million in the final year of a three-year contract.
But that remains to be seen, the twinge he felt over the final minutes on Friday proof his long-term playing future in uncertain.
“For me, I don’t know what physically I have,” Nash said. “I know I can play at a good level when I’m moving well. But how long I can sustain that movement is interesting. I tweaked it and came out at the end of the game. I don’t think it’s a big deal. I think I can play Sunday, if not the next game.
“I don’t know. I want to fight every bit. These last (14) games will give me an indication of what I need to do this summer.”
For most of one night, anyway, Nash was able to get up and down a basketball court fairly normally.
And he was able to contribute.
In that respect, he reaffirmed all the work he put in to come back – if only for a handful of games in a lost season.
“Is it worth it?’ he wondered. “It is, just to feel good an make a play for your teammates and put pressure on the other team and move freely. It’s why I love this game and I have kept fighting and trying to work and get an opportunity.”